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Yams (Dioscorea spp.) plant size hierarchy and yield variability: Emergence time is critical

Cornet D., Sierra J., Tournebize R., Ney B.. 2014. European Journal of Agronomy, 55 : p. 100-107.

Yam crops (Dioscorea spp.) present a very high and unexplained interplant variability which hinders attempts at intensification. This paper aims to characterize the plant-to-plant variability in yield and to identify its underlying causes for the two major yam species (Dioscorea alata and Dioscorea rotundata). Four field experiments were carried out between 2006 and 2009 in Benin. Yams were grown using a traditional cropping method (i.e. in mounds at 0.7 plants m?2) without biotic or abiotic stresses. In order to test interplant competition, a low density treatment (0.08 plants m?2) was included for D. alata in the 2006 experiment. Throughout four years of experimentation, yields varied from 12 Mg ha?1 to 21 Mg ha?1. Both yam species presented a high interplant coefficient of variation (CV) for tuber yield (42-71%). The unbiased Gini coefficient (G?) was used to measure how steep a hierarchy is in an absolute sense. CV and G? of individual plant biomass both confirm clear plant size hierarchies from early growth. However, no difference in the CV of plant size and plant tuber yield was observed between high and low plant density. This implies that, despite early interaction between neighbouring plants, competition was not the driving factor controlling plant variability. In fact uneven emergence proved to be the primary cause. Yam emergence takes place over a long period (e.g. it took 51 and 47 days for the 90% central range to emerge for D. alata and D. rotundata, respectively), creating an early inter-plant size hierarchy which later affected tuber production. For both species, plants which emerged early initiated their tuberization earlier in the growing season and reached higher maximum yield regardless of weather conditions (e.g. 1200 and 764 g plant?1 for early-emerging D. alata and D. rotundata plants respectively, and 539 and 281 g plant?1 for late-emerging plants). Plant size hierarchization together with its observed left-skewed distribution, led to reduce total and marketable yield by increasing the proportion of small tubers. These results highlight the need to better understand the underlying mechanisms controlling the yams' uneven emergence before attempting to improve traditional cropping systems. (Résumé d'auteur)

Mots-clés : guadeloupe; bénin

Thématique : Culture des plantes

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